Cancun 5/07

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Cinco de Mayo - Your place or Mayan...

El Castillo at Chichen Itza

Another "sanity vacation" opportunity arose in-between two business trips in early May, so off I flew for three days in Cancun. The trip was a good mixture of Caribbean beaches, visits to four Mayan archeological sites and just plain downtime. All told I hiked about 10 miles, drove over 500 miles and climbed two tall pyramids in the Yucatan. This was my first trip to Mexico in a long time and I was pleasantly surprised. The roads were excellent, the beaches beautiful and there was more than enough good food and things to do and see.

Saturday May 5th - Cinco de Mayo


My flight from Chicago arrived around noon on Cinco de Mayo, Mexico's commemoration of the victory of their militia over the French army at Puebla in 1862. I was out of customs in 40 minutes and driving my rental car out of the airport by 1pm. It was around 90°F and humid during my entire stay, normal for this time of year. Somehow I got lost crossing Hwy. 307 and ended up going through the city of Cancun then coming south through the beach area instead of direct to the hotel.

Top of Nohoch Mul El Castillo at Coba

After checking in at the Marriott Casa Magna and doing my ceremonial sanity vacation watch removal, I headed north to the Hard Rock Café for a late lunch. I roamed around the Punta Cancun area for a while, picked up some supplies at a grocery store and headed back to the hotel. After a beer break on my balcony (first picture above), I headed out for a long barefoot beach walk - probably 3 or 4 miles round trip - ending after sunset (second picture above).


Sunday May 6th - Chichen Itza & Ek Balam


Having read stories on the web of how crowded Chichen Itza got once the tour busses start arriving in late morning, I decided to head out around 7am on Hwy. 180D Cuota (toll road) for the two hour drive west. The Cuota was a dream to drive (third picture above), four lanes, 110Km/Hr with almost no traffic, but the two tolls were steep - 194 & 48 pesos (~$23 US total) each way.


A thousand years of pre-Hispanic history happened at Chichen Itza, beginning around 500AD. The 2.5 square mile site is hard to describe - being there was part of the experience. The famous main pyramid, El Castillo, was certainly imposing (fourth picture above, first and second pictures below). The whole site took about 90 minutes to see - I tend to move fast. I climbed everything they let me climb, but El Castillo is now strictly off-limits. The observatory and "church" (La Inglesia) were visually striking - plenty of science mixed with religion (third and fourth pictures below).

Driving away from Chichen Itza, I noticed that there are an incredible number of butterflies wild in the Yucatan - so many that they dotted my windshield on the way from Chichen Itza to Ek Balam, another Mayan site about a half hour north of the Cuota on the way back to Cancun. Ek Balam (Black Jaguar) was prominent from around 400AD until 1200 AD. The site (first picture below) was much smaller than Chichen Itza, dominated by the 100ft tall Acropolis Pyramid (second picture below). I climbed to the top and took the third picture below looking back over the rest of the site and surrounding jungle.


I got back to Cancun by mid-afternoon and spent the next 4 hours walking the beach and hanging out on my balcony reading a book and listening to music. For dinner I walked over to the Crab House where I sat at an ocean front table to watch the sunset over the city of Cancun across the bay (fourth picture below), including a drinkable Mexican wine and seafood with a Mexican spice flair.

Monday May 7th - Tulum & Coba


Monday mid-morning I headed south on Hwy. 307 for a leisurely two hour drive along the Mexican Riviera Caribbean coast, stopping first at Tulum (first and second pictures below). Tulum is a very famous Mayan walled city, but besides the beautiful location perched on the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean, it left me cold. There were lots of tourists there and I wasn't allowed to climb or even get close to its El Castillo. My impression is that they've made the site too sterile.

Contrast that to Coba - outstanding! Heading out of Tulum city, Coba was an easy 45 minute drive inland on good roads, with an occasional small village along the way (third picture below, showing Mexico's notorious speed bumps). Coba's massive 26 square miles are almost completely natural, with much of the site still swallowed up by the jungle. The walk in to get to much of the site was on a well groomed jungle pathway (fourth picture below) that's about a mile long.

Along the pathway there were several groups of buildings, including La Inglesia (first picture below), which I climbed as far as I was allowed. Coba's 138ft tall Nohoch Mul El Castillo (second picture below), is the highest pyramid in the Yucatan and the second highest in all of Mexico. Best of all - they let me climb it to the top (large picture top of page right). That view across the jungle floor was imposing, as was the view of those steep 120 steps heading back down (third picture below). Along the pathway back to the parking lot I took a detour to see some of the other areas, including the "Paintings complex" and the unique oval shaped Xiabe temple (fourth picture below).


After returning to Cancun in the late afternoon, I spent some more beach time and then drove to the north end of the island to do some souvenir shopping for the family. I ate dinner at a famous loud bar/restaurant called Carlos and Charlie's, which was apropos for my last night in Cancun. Having declared myself once again relaxed and sane, on Tuesday morning I reluctantly donned my watch again and flew out to Boston via Chicago to continue my business trip.


I highly recommend the "Can-Do Guides in a Map", which provided maps and insights for this trip. I bought the Chichen Itza, Riviera Maya and Cancun editions ahead of time on the web at $8US each.

Home Up Aruba 10/04 Aruba 4/09 Aruba 7/13 Aruba 5/14 Cancun 5/07 Costa Rica 4/06 Costa Rica 7/04 Costa Rica 11/12 Curacao 2/05 Grand Cayman 12/00 Jamaica 7/07 Panama 12/13 Puerto Rico & Vieques 12/08 Puerto Rico & Vieques 9/08 Puerto Rico 12/07 Puerto Rico coasts 7 & 9/14 Saint Kitts 2/06 Virgin Islands 12/03

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